In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new player in the home console industry — or at least there could be. It’s not Apple or the long-rumored “Steam Box” from Valve. It’s something entirely new.
On July 10th, an independent group named Boxer8 posted a Kickstarter project titled “OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console”, which beat its nearly one million dollar funding goal within eight hours and now sits at over five million dollars in consumer backers with twenty-two days to go. The $99, Android-based platform claims to bring the innovation of indie developer-friendly models like the iOS App Store and Steam to the living room. Judging by the support of almost 40,000 backers and numerous development studios, apparently some people out there clearly think a console like this could be a good idea.
While a PC and an internet connection is all an indie developer has ever needed to get their game out, breaking through to a wider audience has never been easy. The PC and the smartphone are just not platforms made from the ground-up for gaming. For a while now, the home console market has dominated the videogame industry — which has left the entirety of our gaming options up to three massive corporations who, not surprisingly, don’t always have our interests or the interests of indie developers in mind. But the real question is: “Will this actually work?”
The Ouya is a daring and ambitious undertaking — perhaps even a bit naive. Articles by publications like The Verge and The Penny Arcade have warned us that we should be skeptical about the promises of the new system. According to article from The Penny Arcade, even some indie developers themselves are skeptical about the practicality of a system like the Ouya. In the article indie developer Robert Boyd says that the system sounds like more of a pipe-dream than the open market developers dream of:
“My main problem with the OUYA is that it’s selling a dream: ‘The Console for Indie Developers,” he explained. “Its primary selling points are that it’s cheap and developers can make games for it without buying expensive development kits. However, you can already get all that with a cheap PC and unlike the OUYA, the install base for the PC is already massive.” … “The Apple App Store has been more successful than XBLIG, but even there, you either get in the top 10 and make a fortune or you ‘die in obscurity.’ And the Android is even more open than Apple’s and yet how many success stories do you hear for Android developers? Not many.” Keep in mind all of these platforms have an installed base many times that of the OUYA.
However, going through comment threads on these articles I’ve found another kind of disapproval of the console. There’s a large group of people out there who are perfectly happy with the current structure of the videogames industry. Do we really need another console to buy? Is the home console industry even something that needs to be saved in the first place?
If you’re interested in the future of the medium as a place that can foster creative expression and meaningful experiences, then yes. In fact, the most obvious example of how tightly the “big three” companies have guarded their industry happened earlier this year. The hit indie game The Binding of Isaac was submitted to appear in the Nintendo 3DS eShop until Nintendo rejected the game based on it’s portrayal of “questionable religious content”. It’s not just Nintendo though.
Last year, a game called Phone Story was banned from the iOS App Store just a few hours after it went live. The game depicted the ethical, environmental, and moral sacrifices that have to be made to produce a device like an iPhone. How will developers who have substantial things to say about hot-button issues like these ever get their voices heard if the gatekeepers of the industry remain unchallenged?
I don’t know if Ouya is the “savior” of home consoles. I don’t really even know if it will succeed logistically. What I do know is that a console like the Ouya is exactly what the industry needs to keep growing and developing.